Welcome to WWDC, our annual glimpse into Apple’s crystal ball. Although almost everyone will be poised to examine the details and nuances of the opening Keynote tomorrow (Monday), I’m also concerned at what is so far missing from the announced presentations and labs: the unified log.
Apple is, of course, expected to highlight what will be new in iOS 12 and macOS 10.14. Whilst those are undeniably of great importance, High Sierra still has a lot of unfinished business from last year’s WWDC. Most prominent in that is APFS support for Fusion Drives. With millions of Macs out there starting up from Fusion Drives, and Apple still selling them as standard in popular models, the deafening silence on this has to be broken, unless Apple expects users to mix and match its old and new file systems well into the future.
We should also expect Apple to announce Time Machine 2, which will no longer depend on features of its old file system. The existing Time Machine is long overdue a major revamp, and needs to be freed from dependence on hard links. When it appeared in Mac OS X Leopard almost eleven years ago, Time Machine was an ingenious and highly effective solution for the great majority of Mac users. Now, many face problems with long series of backups from large internal drives, making backups take longer, and the whole system unreliable. Users are switching to alternatives such as Carbon Copy Cloner.
If Apple doesn’t respond to this in macOS 10.14, it will be a clear indication that, like so many excellent tools before it, Time Machine is going to wither and die.
Time Machine is an excellent example of Apple’s biggest problems with macOS. Whatever inclinations and incentive there might be to merge macOS and iOS, there are plenty of fundamental tools which remain macOS-only, or whose requirements in macOS are completely different from any equivalent in iOS. Another topical example is the unified log, and access to its contents.
Like them or not, system logs are a fundamental feature of most, perhaps all, good operating systems, and access to them is a necessity for many users, not just system administrators and developers. Yet in Sierra’s unified log, Apple radically changed the whole concept of the log, and failed to provide appropriate tools for their access.
Even working with its old logs, Console in Sierra and High Sierra is far less capable than Console in El Capitan. Without it, very few users are able or prepared to wrestle with the
log command tool. Nor should they have to.
Solving problems in macOS without good log access is at best more difficult, and at times well nigh impossible. Users cannot be expected to unravel crash logs, which require understanding of the way the crashed app works. It is telling that Apple has devoted sessions in WWDC this year to explain to developers how to understand and use their own crash logs, and I look forward to the improvements in documentation which should – if Apple still recognises the word documentation – result.
In a great many problems, there is no crash log to deal with. Using Console, the user is, frankly, stuffed. The only way of looking retrospectively at an event which has just occurred is to create a huge logarchive, then struggle your way through its millions of log entries. Even reproducing a problem and capturing entries live using Console’s streaming mode is clumsy at best.
Yet looking through the pre-announced sessions at WWDC 2018, there is no mention of any improvements to the unified log, nor to its tools such as Console. Although it’s possible that these are still buried among the unannounced sessions and labs, I somehow doubt it.
If Apple seriously intends shipping macOS 10.14 without greatly improved access to its unified log, it demonstrates yet again how deaf it has become to the needs of macOS users and developers.
I’m taking no chances. Over the coming weeks, I will be devoting more of my time to bringing Consolation 3 up to a standard where it is ready for full release, then turning to finish Woodpile off. But, as many of you have pointed out to me, why should I and other third-party developers have to spend so much time and effort doing what Apple, with its vast cash and human resources, should be fixing?
Maybe we’re in for some real surprises in WWDC, in such tools and in documentation, rather than razzle-dazzle, smoke and mirrors.